Finding Your Compass: Peak Experiences

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Take a moment and think back on a time when you felt ‘in the zone.’ You know what I mean: that time when, no matter the activity or who you were with, you felt authentically you. Whatever you were engaged in felt effortless, easy and fun. A moment when you were engrossed, engaged and, without realizing it, time flew.

It turns out that these ‘flow’ moments feel as good as they do because they are instances where our actions and behavior are aligned with our values. To put another way, flow moments happen when our outer lives are aligned with our inner lives. 

In the coaching world, we call this a ‘Peak Experience.’ Peak Experiences are expressions of our values in motion. And they can be incredible clues to understand what we’re looking for and how we make decisions at work, in relationships, in setting goals for ourselves and more. Because, if you’re like me, once you’ve had a peak experience, you want to have more! 

Let’s get started.

To begin, find a quiet place to sit and close your eyes. Consider for a moment what Peak Experiences you’ve had and choose one. It could be at work, with your family, when you were traveling or something else altogether. Where were you, who were you with, what were you doing? What did the environment feel like – were you inside or outdoors, was it warm or cool, what time of day was it? How did you feel? 

At this point you may want to open your eyes, and jot down the story of the experience (bullet points will be fine, too). Or, you could do this activity with a friend or partner and swap stories out loud. Take a few minutes to really reflect and tune in: what about this experience stands out and why?

The elements that stand out are most likely indicators of your values. Values are an important clue not just for understanding what really matters to us, but also for identifying what conditions need to be met in order to feel successfully aligned in the future. If you want a ‘values kickstart,’ check out this list of values – which ones show up in your story?

Here’s an example. Let’s say I choose a recent volunteer experience I had. I was engaged, energized and lost track of time (all good signs of a Peak Experience!). As I unpack that story and reflect on why it made me feel the way it did, I might say that one value present was Connection. I felt connected to the people I was working with and serving, and that aligned with who I am and what I value.

Alternatively, I may consider my volunteering a Peak Experience because I had the chance to lead a group of peers and support them in their own work. For that reason, Leadership or Authority might also be values that contributed to my Peak Experience.

There’s no right or wrong answer here, and multiple values are always in play in a situation like this. But let’s carry this example further and say I’m also looking for a new job. When I look at the bullet points of a job description, what clues might I find that point to my ability to create Connection, to Lead, or even to have Authority to make decisions on my own or for the good of the team? 

Peak Experiences also work for family and personal decisions, too. When I first explored my own stories, I chose an example of a moment when my husband, son and I had just finished lunch at a restaurant, and before heading home, we went for a walk and explored some overgrown, abandoned train tracks. At first I was surprised that this moment even popped into my head – at the time it felt pretty inconsequential. And yet, it was the story that showed up, so I went with it.

Reflecting quietly, I transported myself back to that time. I could see us balancing on a train track like a balance beam, laughing together as we toppled and tried again. I could hear us imagining what these tracks were used for way back when, and I could feel my heart warm as I remembered my son pretending to be a train conductor. In just a minute or two, I literally felt the Openness, Curiosity and Inner Harmony that I had felt that day. 

So - why do Peak Experiences matter? Two reasons: first, they help us more mindfully tune into the current conditions of our lives. By this I mean, what’s working, where are we aligned, and why? Next, with this evaluation in mind, Peak Experiences help us identify what we want more of in our lives and in our work.

If wayfinding is about navigation, Peak Experiences are our compass for choosing and changing course. Where will your compass take you?